a midsummer dream

So, when this summer started, I had twenty-one pieces I needed to edit and send out. I'd filled a binder with copies of drafts with written comments from professors, with clean copies for me to write on, with tabs for every story so I would stay organized. My goal was to maybe get two or three acceptances over the summer, since I was able to get two over winter break, and I would be happy and feel accomplished. It was a lot of work, but I was willing to put the effort in, because I genuinely thought all of these pieces were good enough to go somewhere.

By the end of June, I ended up finishing all twenty-one of those as well as three more stories to send out, bringing that total to twenty-four. I wasn't sure if I would be able to finish them, and I do still have two that need to be worked on, but I'm happy they were included. I'm happy I'll have time to finish the other two that I really wanted to work on. I don't know if I'll send them out, but at least I have the time to give to them that they deserve.

And I'm happy to announce that I'm now at six (not counting the two that are already published) acceptances.

I can only hope it keeps going like this. I'm so beyond happy and excited about this that it's sort of hard to convey the right emotions? I can't accurately describe how I feel, how it feels to know that my work is and will be out there, for so many people to see, and I still have a full year of MFA work to get through. Hell, there are still about seven weeks of break left, so who knows what'll happen between now and then? I never really expected to have so many pieces picked up over the summer. I never really expected anything to get accepted, if I'm being honest, because imposter syndrome is real. All I can think is the line from Radiohead's Creep, "what the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here. I don't belong here".

But here we are. As of today, June 19, 2018, I have six acceptances and two published pieces. I do belong here. And this is where I'll stay.

story time

Hello!

I am proud to announce that my first short story, titled "bite", is now available at The Future Fire! I'm both happy and excited that this is my first piece to be published. It's about a girl who bites her lip and the consequences of that action. 

This piece was the first "complete movement" I wrote for my MFA program, in the first workshop I took. That means it's one of the oldest pieces I have from this new writing renaissance of mine. I'm glad it's about a girl who realizes that some things shouldn't be held back, no matter how scary it is to say them out loud. I'm still learning that. 

I am so motivated to continue and get even more things published! This will be my Summer of Publishing, as long as I have any say in it!

I hope you read it and enjoy it. Thanks so much.

New Prints!

Hello, all! This is just a short post telling you that I updated my illustration section to have actual good versions of my prints. I was given extremely helpful advice from a professor at school about using glycerin mixed with ink to get a smoother roll and better quality print, and she was 100% correct. I also figured out how galleries work, so things look a lot cleaner. Sorry it was such a mess last time.

(p.s.: this took like 10 hours over two days, this is why you should always figure out how to do something before you just DO it or else you'll have to re-do things and waste just a whole lot of time while watching really terrible 90s movies as background noise.)

First Publications

Today, I finally get to say something I've wanted to say for a very long time:

I am a published author.

I actually forgot that today was the day I was getting published. My therapist had to remind me. I've been caught up in school and my health and all sorts of other things, it honestly just slipped my mind (even though I have it marked on my desk calendar). 

It's a non-fiction essay about a short story collection that changed my life, "FEN" by Daisy Johnson. I highly suggest all of you stop whatever it is you're doing and buy it so you can be just as changed as I was. I actually got to interview Daisy for an assignment, and I'm hoping to get the Q&A published elsewhere, at some point. I also ended up writing a creative-surreal-y piece about it to turn in as an assignment, but that's neither here nor there (maybe it will go up here, one day? Who knows, I don't think I can publish it anywhere else). 

I have a lot of feelings about my first published piece. I thought it would matter less because it's non-fiction as opposed to fiction (which I will have news about later...) but it really means the world to me, no matter what. To think that someone wanted to share my words with the world, that means a lot to me.

This is the first step and I know it's only going to get more amazing from here.

The nebulousness of being "sick"

Warning: This post will frankly speak about medical issues, procedures, and diagnosis. It will also discuss mental health.

This week I learned I was sick.

That's a really vague thing to say, isn't it? As of this post, that's all I really know. After two weeks of intermittent extreme abdominal and pelvic pain, I passed a large blood clot and rushed to the ER. I was given a rectal exam, extensive blood work was done, and I had my first CT scan (with contrast, which feels really strange and terrible in your nether regions). When they discharged me, all they could tell me was that I had bleeding in my colon and my test results were high/positive for something Being Wrong. I was given instructions to go back to the hospital if another clot passed, and that I needed to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy so they could really see what was happening inside me. I have yet to get the colonoscopy, because my insurance requires my GP give me a referral to a specialist, and they have yet to set up the appointment. The American health care system, am I right?

For most people, news about something being wrong with their body is scary. Even more so when you don't have a proper answer about what exactly is wrong. For someone with severe depression and anxiety, like me, being told something is wrong, but not being told what is like telling me the world is definitely going to end in a bit, just not exactly when. It doesn't help that on my mother's side of the family, my great-grandmother had colon cancer in her 70s, my grandmother had it in her 50s, and my mother had polyps removed at 40. That's a worrying downward trend for someone nearing 30. On my father's side, a great-uncle also had colon and prostate cancer. None of them passed away from their illnesses, thankfully. Colon cancer, for the most part, is an "old" disease. It doesn't typically strike people my age.

Unfortunately, that doesn't matter to someone like me. My brain, used to spiralling out over the smallest of things, has taken this and run. I get "stomach flu" around 3-5 times a year. Now my mind is analyzing every single time it happened and wondering if it's not really the stomach flu. I've always had digestive issues, with dairy and fats and a myriad of other foods. Is that connected, too? Maybe this isn't cancer, but it seems like it's something chronic, and that's not good, either. This can't just be an infection or one-off thing. That doesn't make sense. What could it fucking be?

And that's what it's like to live with anxiety and an unknown medical diagnosis. I vacillate between extreme numbness and apathy about what's going on thanks to the depression, and near panic attacks because of the anxiety. This is while on medication. I can't even imagine what it'd be like if I wasn't. There's also a tiny bit of anger, sometimes, over something else being Wrong with me, after all the bullshit I've had to deal with over the years. 

I've been obsessed, lately, with writing about blood and body horror; particularly body horror having to do with when the body is out of your control. What's more terrifying than when you don't have a say in what your body does? When blood mysteriously appears with seemingly no source? Some people would say that this is a sign of my subconscious trying to tell me something was going on with my own body. That I was ignoring things and writing things off that I shouldn't have been. I don't know if I believe that, but it's an interesting coincidence. One of the first pieces picked up for publication that I wrote is about uncontrollable bleeding. Maybe I knew this was going to happen before it did. 

I don't know. I don't know a lot of things, right now. And that really sucks.

Why You Should Be Listening to "The Adventure Zone"

It might seem strange that the first blog post on this website would be about a Podcast that's 3 years old and pretty well-known in the gaming/podcasting community. It's not so weird when you consider what The Adventure Zone (better known by creators and fans alike as TAZ) has done for me personally.

TAZ was created by brothers Justin, Travis, and Griffin McElroy and their father Clint McElroy in December-ish of 2014. The brothers McElroy are also pretty well-known for their podcast-and-television-show My Brother, My Brother and Me (MBMBAM), along with a slew of other podcasts on the Maximum Fun Network produced by various members of their family (as well as Justin's wife Sydnee Smirl McElroy's family). TAZ is a podcast where the three brothers play Dungeon's & Dragons with their dad.

When I told my parents I was listening to a podcast about D&D, they were amused and bewildered. You just listen to people play a game? was the most question I got most often. That's fair enough. It's a strange premise to get past. It's hard to just listen to something with focus, without doing anything else. No reading, nothing to engage you with visual stimulus. It's easy to get frustrated and fidgety.

Listening to TAZ--my first podcast that I actually stuck with past one episode--meant I had to learn how to listen properly while still keeping myself busy. I cross-stitched, drew, carved, showered, did chores, and fell asleep to TAZ. All activities I didn't have to really think about while I was doing them. I've used the same method when listening to other podcasts, and now I have a whole library full of them. They're what I turn to when I need to do something that takes a long time, but that I don't necessarily need to keep my whole mind tuned towards (mostly when I carve and delve into digital art). 

I was introduced to TAZ through fanart of one of the characters on Tumblr at the same time one of my friends was trying to convince me to listen to MBMBAM. I was interested in the character designs I saw on Tumblr, but highly skeptical of a show, any show, made by three cis het white dudes and their dad. Especially when I learned that two of them were fairly big names in the gaming community. I've seen the way that community treats queer people. What the hell would be in it for me?

Things were a bit of a struggle at that time. I was living in a state 1000 miles from my family, I was stuck in a job that took all of my energy, and I was really struggling with my depression and anxiety. I needed a distraction, so TAZ it was. I would suck it up and see how this podcast could possibly hold up to my impossibly high skepticism. I began listening sometime in 2016, so I had plenty of episodes to catch up on before I had to wait the two week intervals between uploads. 

The first few episodes were a bit slow and clunky; the boys and Clint had to get their bearings and figure out what they were doing, Griffin especially as the DM. But there was something special there that kept me coming back episode after episode. Not the story, not yet. Something else. There was a chemistry between the McElroy family, a camaraderie and love that's palpable the longer you listen. It felt like I was in the room with them while they argued and laughed and played; like I was sitting quietly in my chair and doing my own thing while I watched over them and enjoyed what they were creating. It was strange and wonderful. Not having that close a bond with my family, I've never known what it's like to have that sort of easy openness. But listening to this podcast? I was a part of the McElroy family, in a way I didn't know I desperately needed.

As the chapters progressed, the story unfolded into something magical--no pun intended. I won't spoil any of the chapters or major plot points, but the emphasis on family (found or blood) and friendship and caring for one another is woven throughout. And more importantly, the characters that Justin, Travis and Clint play, as well as the myriad of NPCs Griffin controls, are beautifully fleshed out and realized. Merle is trying his best and self-conscious about his own status in the group, Magnus is full of courage and hope and faith, Taako is trying to put himself back together again. There are a lot of goofs and fuck-ups and dick jokes, but at its heart, this is a story about love.

Listening to TAZ did two things for me:

The first was something I thought I'd given up on--writing. Griffin's growth and evolution as a storyteller inspired something in me. I wanted to write again, to create. But I wanted more than to just write for myself. I wanted to do something I didn't think I could do; become an actual professional writer. So I decided to apply for grad school and get my Master's in creative writing. And somehow, I was accepted. I've been producing some of the best work I've ever created in my life. I've got two pieces that have been picked up to be published (one PAID for) and a myriad of others being shopped out. All because of listening to the sprawling universe Griffin McElroy created unveil itself week after week. 

The second was to make me really examine myself and my thoughts on gender. The reason for this is because of two characters in the story, Taako and a character I won't talk about because it would spoil those of you who haven't listened to the podcast yet (but for those who have, let's just say they really lit a fire in me, wink). Taako is a gay man (elf) who eschews gender norms in his mannerisms, dress, everything. He doesn't give a shit what other people think of these parts of himself, because he's much more worried they'll be thinking about other parts. His confidence and self-assurance about his sexuality and gender non-conformity really made me look at myself. I started thinking that maybe my complete dissatisfaction with myself about my own gender presentation was because I was frustrated with gender altogether. I didn't fit being a woman and I didn't want to be a man. I was something in between, or maybe nothing at all. I'm not sure, yet. I don't know if I'll ever be sure, and that's okay. I've decided on the label "non-binary" for now because it feels right. Maybe that'll change one day. I'm not worried about it anymore. I've got other things to focus on.

In one of my classes, I listed TAZ as an influential work for me. Not because I want to write high fantasy, and not because I'm interested in collaborative writing, but because of how amazing it was to watch this thing come together over two years. I re-listened to episodes to gather clues, I waited impatiently for two months to pass so I could listen to the finale altogether, I wept when the final words were spoken in "Balance". TAZ became something that introduced me to new people and groups and hobbies. It became a banner to rally around. It made me break out my tablet and draw digitally for the first time in years, made me join a weekly D&D group, made me decide on a huge path for my future. That's so astounding to me. 

I know I'm not the only person who has been so affected by this piece of media. I can't guarantee that if you do listen to TAZ it'll change you as much as it changed me. I can't guarantee that the humor will hit you, that you'll love the characters, that the story will move you. All I can do is tell you to give it a chance. There are shorter one-off arcs that the brothers and Clint are experimenting with before they do another big arc like "Balance". You could give those a shot, too ("Amnesty" is amazing, just saying). All I can really do is gently offer you the opportunity to join in on something that's become something so important to me, and hope you take it.

Whatever you decide to do, hail and well met, my dudes.